From Following to Abiding
Text: Joshua 23
Proposition: The importance of abiding in Christ is that this where we bear fruit, abiding in Him is why Jesus came and died on the cross.
Introduction: A 71-year-old farmer has found a unique solution to Japan's chronic shortage of space: grow 11 different kinds of citrus fruit on a single tree! Manabu Fukushima of Onga, has developed a Lemon tree that bears ten other kinds of citrus fruits. Using the art of grafting Mr. Fukishima inserts a small branch from a producing fruit tree into a branch from his Lemon tree (see slide) Grafting, it’s one part cloning, one part surgery, and one part fruit production. There’s several aspects to grafting that are essential for success. The first part is that the Scion, or fresh wood, has to be cleanly cut from it’s original tree. The branch that the Scion is going to be grafted into must then be cut and exposed but the key is that the cut in the branch needs to match the way the Scion is cut so that the two can be paired together. The sap from the branch is what will not only keep the Scion alive but will enable it to be fruitful. When the two have been joined the Scion must then be fixed in place so as to allow a complete bonding. Mr. Fukishima used wax to hold the Scion in place and seal up the wound so that no insects could contaminate this cloning process. Strange as it might seem this grafting process is one that Joshua was seeking achieve, except instead of two branches what Joshua had in mind was a nation of people being united to a holy God. Their fruitfulness or success would be determined by how well they bonded in this graft of obedience and faith. Turn with me to Joshua 23.
I. The Glory of God is Clearly Seen In The Things He Does.
Joshua calls all the leaders of Israel together, it has been about ten years since they have taken possession of the land and Joshua knows that soon he will die. Like a good captain he wants to ensure that they will hold the course but to do so they will need to be vigilant in their faithfulness to God. In these next verses Joshua lists a number of things that reveal the character, plan and methods of God because that is what the glory of God is seen through. It’s the character of God that says He is trustworthy, but more than that He is worthy of all our love. It’s the plan of God that points to the good He intends to accomplish in and through us. It’s the methods of God to achieve these things that we are invited to participate in as He blesses the outcome accordingly. In all these we begin to see Who God is and what God intends to do, in short we begin to see His glory. That is what Joshua is seeking as he calls these leaders together because the glory of God once seen will bind and seal the graft of our faith in Him. Look at what he points them to, things they can clearly see the glory of God in :
1. God fights for us. We would not be where we are today if God had not first fought for us. He drove back the enemy, He made room for us to seek Him, He fought for us when the enemy was too strong. The leaders of Israel knew this was true, they remembered walls falling down, hail stones driving the enemy from before them, they remembered rivers standing still. God has also fought for us in the person of Jesus Christ. He saw the cross, He saw the incarnation where God would become man, living in the frailty of man and in these Jesus fought for you.
2. God makes promises to us. It is by the Omnipotence and Omniscience of God that He promises what He does. God promised that they would possess the lands of Canaan, He promised they would win battles, He promised He would be with them. God’s promises come from who He is as our heavenly Father, He promises so that we would know more of Who He is. All the promises Jesus made to us of coming to Him when we are weary, of Him going to prepare a place for us, of the presence of the Holy Spirit coming, all these reveal Who He is. They reveal His glory.
3. God requires promises from us. It’s a two way street in any relationship, both are called to commit to each other. God has obviously committed Himself to Israel, Joshua has just reminded them of that. Now Joshua points out what their commitment will look like because God does expect promises from us in return for His. The promises in this case are to know what is in the Word, the Law of Moses and knowing it they are to obey it. They are to recognize temptation and to avoid it, if they don’t the temptation will become a scourge on their sides and thorns in their eyes, a snare and a trap. As great as these things are in terms of what God requires from us in terms of promises there is an even greater one… it’s to love the Lord your God. It is the greatest commandment but it is also the promise we make upon which all of our faithfulness rests. Love the Lord. It’s what Jesus asked Peter when He met them on the shores of Galilee after the resurrection. Do you love Me? Why do you think that God requiring promises from us would be part of His glory? It’s because it proclaims the truth of Who He is and Who He is not. He is not a doormat nor is He a footstool. He’s not a credit card nor is He a wishbone. He is One Who loves, Who is faithful but also expects faithfulness. God will uphold those who abide in Him, they will be sustained by Him but only if He is their God. Idolatry of any form for Israel was a deal breaker, idolatry broke covenant with God. It’s the First Commandment, isn’t it, God will not share His glory with another created thing. God is the Lord God Almighty, He expects that we would treat Him that way especially in regards to the promises we make to Him. That’s why Joshua warns them that just as God was faithful to bless them so He will also be faithful to curse them if they bow to lesser idols. That’s a promise that God wants us to make to Him, He is our God, He alone is worthy of our worship.
Joshua wants them to hold the course, to abide in God, to see His glory and never forget what God has done for them. If they would this land would always be theirs.
II. The Glory of God is Seen In the Way He Grafts Us To Him.
Fourteen hundred years later, on the evening of what we call the Last Supper, Jesus too spoke about abiding in God. He was 33 years old, a young man by all accounts. They had finished the supper and were walking down the hill towards the Kidron Valley. Some vines and grapes were likely there as Jesus used them to say, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Abiding is like being grafted in. It means all the same things that grafting means. It means I’m the fresh wood, the Scion, I have to be severed from the tree I have been growing in, cut cleanly from it in order to now be grafted into this new tree. It means the new tree has to be cut, it has to be laid open so that the new branch can be inserted into its wounds. It’s the sap of the new tree that will soon run in the Scion. It’s that sap that will make this Scion alive, it will change it and enable it to create fruit that is unlike anything else before. But the Scion will only bear fruit if it stays in the graft, that’s the only way the living sap can move through it. It needs to abide in the branch. If it is ever dislodged or bent, the life from the branch cannot flow and the Scion will not only be fruitless, it will die, it can do nothing. Jesus used this metaphor to tell us that we too need to abide in Him. It was the cross that this 33 year old man had in sight, a place where He would experience death. The wonder of Jesus as being both God and man was that in death He would be wounded in way that would allow others to be grafted into His life. His death was penal, it paid the legal demands of God against sin but His death was also provisional. It provided not only a payment of debt but it opened the way for Him to now move in and through us. Listen to the words that He prayed just minutes after telling them the illustration of abiding in the vine… “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. ” (John 17: 20-22)
It was the South African preacher Andrew Murray who observed that when Jesus first met the disciples He told them to follow Him. That was what a disciple was, a follower of Jesus. But it was at Gethsemane that Jesus changed the definition of a disciple, now they were to abide in Him. From following to abiding, we begin at the first place of just hearing about Him, we run after Him to see where He lives. But then comes the time when He invites us to move from just knowing about Him to being grafted into Him. It means being cut from the tree that is your natural strength, the tree of my self, my sin nature. It means to be willing to die to self and depend more and more on Him. Abide in Him and you will bear much fruit, by this is the Father glorified. Abide in Him in every way and you will bear fruit.